Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dressing Up by Marisa Berenson (1984)

Good morning!

In the continuing effort to declutter our house and make for more elegant (still rococo, but less roco-"what-the-heck, why-can't-I-hang-a-coat-in-this-closet" than before) living arrangements, I was emptying some boxes in the attic for Goodwill when I found this 1984 style book by Marisa Berenson. I faintly remember buying it because of Berenson's connection to Andy Warhol (and my unbridled obsessive love of Andy Warhol and his social circle), and then regretting it because everything in it was so 1984. I was once was blind, Marisa! But now I see! Rereading the book, I was bowled over by how much I loved Berenson's kooky classic style...RIGHT up my alley. 

Marisa Berenson was born in 1947, the daughter of an American diplomat and socialite Gogo Schiaparelli. Schiaparelli Schiaparelli, you may ask yourself? As in Elsa? Yes, MA'AM! She and sister Berry Berenson are the famous Schiap's granddaughters, and wow, did they carry the torch of European glamour forward and upward. Luminously pretty, wide-eyed, and relatively tall (5'8'') for the time, Marisa started modeling for Vogue at sixteen and managed high profile roles in Death in Venice (opposite Dirk Bogarde!), Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, and Cabaret (remember the Jewish countess in the countryside? That's her). At the time this book came out, she was on her second marriage and raising ten year old Starlight Melody Randall (could I make that name up?) from her first in New York, while still presumably mixing and mingling with the crème de la crème of eighties' society.

Let's take a look at some of her looks from the book. First off, YE GODS IT IS MY PERFECT OUTFIT ON THE COVER. Heavily sequined and beaded gold and black evening jacket? Check. Slim black skirt? Check. Huge bracelet? Check. Black sheer hose? Check. Big hair? Check. I was in love the second I set sights on it. In the aforementioned reorganization process of my closets, I've actually come to the startling conclusion that a good 30% of my wardrobe is either sequined, velvet, black, or some combination of those three descriptors. If the shoe fits, bedazzle it.

 "Dressing up is about fun and flirt and glamour-- and being a little creative with yourself," Berenson writes in her introduction, and indeed, practices what she preaches in the fashion layouts of the book. I know, I know-- anything will look good on you if you're slim and classically beautiful, but there are plenty of people even prettier than Berenson and even thinner that fail parlously in the clothing can open up any copy of People magazine to seehwhatImeanohdearlord. Neither pedigree nor a Park Avenue address will buy you style, which is something Berenson has in spades. Most her her clothing choices are elegant without being stuffy, appropriate without being boring, and romantic without being froufrou. In a word, EXACTLY what I look for in that-perfect-outfit.

I don't know if this dress on the left was vintage at the time, but it certainly is by now if not. Berenson is not one to shy away from crinolines either, so you can imagine how a splashy fifties'-look party frock would be in her general line of fashion. At right, an interestingly slit long skirt (to the point that it almost looks like a short skirt!) is paired with a black velvet opera cape and sky-high hair. Vote yes.

Here's a vintage look of MB's paired with another of her 1984 each, she exhorts the virtues of almost-too-many necklaces to dress up an outfit, and it's TRUE! I think too many girls worry about not having the chutzpah to pull it off, remembering shades of middle school and those ubiquitous army ball-chain type Claire's pendants,  but many times, I feel way better wearing ten brooches or ten necklaces than one, as long as they're matched to each other and I don't look too much like Apple Annie. I love her hair in both pictures.

Ah! The color inserts! Even better! Isn't the netting on this first dress weird? I like it, but it also looks like her arms, hands, and head are attached to her body mannequin-style, with seams. Two large pearl bracelets as cuffs, though, make amends for the optical illusion nature of the netting.

Ditch the earrings, and think of how forties' this suit ensemble would look divorced from its 1984 context. Right? I love her silver pumps and the sequins at the pocket flaps of the jacket. Mermaid chic realness!

Four hair looks, my favorite of which is the one in the lower left hand corner (natch). I also love the upper right hand corner, but that's obvious by the fact that I wear a headscarf and my hair up, up, up, practically every working day. How I still secretly yearn for curly hair! Or hair that would hold a curl! Mine's iron straight no matter what I do to it, except for the cowlicks. Cruel, cruel hair fate.

Some suggested palettes of color combinations from Berenson. Orange and aqua...I'm looking at you warily, but with interest.

There are some truly hideous outfits in the book (and way more down-to-scanties pictures of the author than I think were entirely necessary, but it's her book)-- I've spared you the majority of them in deference to how much I truly love what is "good" about the book's outfit choices...but I just had to share this one in case you thought our swan was all soignée all the time. YIKES, YIKES, and YIKES:

What do you think about Marisa Berenson's style (please ignore the last transgression, the best of us make mistakes, criminally bad denim-based mistakes, even)? Do you have any particular style manual or style credo that helps you when shopping or choosing your outfit for the day? What is your ratio of work clothes to sequins in right now in the closet? Let's talk!

That's all for today...I'm off to buy some crazy lavender hued eyeshadow to eighties' up my life with. See you guys tomorrow!

Further reading: 2011 NYT profile on Berenson , Telegraph feature on the same


  1. I looked all over for a coral and aqua eyeshadow palette and came up dry.
    So sad!
    I think she's gorgeous! We have the same hair but I'm always trying to make mine straighter and flatter. Maybe I should embrace my inner Marisa Berenson and rock the big hair. Just not with those jeans. Never those jeans. *shudder*

    1. I was flipping through the book, all "I love EVERY ONE of these outfits! I love ALL OF THEM! I want to wear every ONE of" (cue the last picture with the jeans). There's an almost-as-bad-one on the back cover. You should go for the hair! I always thought from Vogue pictures of Marisa Berenson in the seventies' that she had stick straight hair...she must have ironed it daily for a decade!

  2. What a beautiful lady -- I've never heard of her before! I love the updo with the scarf. (Shh, don't tell anyone, but now I want a perm, LOL) :)

    1. My hair is Cher-in-the-sixties' long, straight, and heavy, so I've secretly always wanted to just chop it off and get some great loose perm like this. I'm too chicken, though! Bad perms are SO. BAD.



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